Rating: 4 out of stars
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport
Run Time: hour, minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, T.R. Knight, Harrison Ford
Written & Directed by Brian Helgeland (The Order, A Knight's Tale, Payback)
There's no question that Jackie Robinson was one of the most important people of the Civil Rights Movement, becoming the first African American ball player in Major League Baseball (MLB). In the film 42 (opening this weekend, named after Robinson's jersey number), we learn that there were other very important, yet perhaps over-shadowed figures involved in his historic achievements on and off the field. As much as this is the Jackie Robinson Story, it is the story of several revolutionary, forward-thinking individuals who were determined to change the perceptions of popular culture at the time.
Sadly, 42 is about as formulaic and vanilla as one would expect, a biography told with reverence and caution as opposed to aiming for any sense of realism. Still, it achieves in painting Robinson as a hero, despite much of the focus being on his supporting cast.
Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is a successful ball player in the Negro Leagues during the 40s, when he is hand-picked by MLB executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and signed to his Brooklyn Dodgers. He is picked not only because of his elite on-field talent, but his off-the-field personal strength...with the amount of racial abuse he will face once joining the team, Rickey is also looking for a man who has the strength not to fight back.
Jackie is threatened by local white folk who want him gone, ridiculed by press just waiting to pounce and abused even by his fellow teammates who demand to be traded simply because of Robinson's presence in the clubhouse. On the field opposing pitchers throw at his head and call him derogatory terms from the dugout. White umpires even show their extreme bias in calling him out even when he is clearly safe (I guess bad umpires have and always will remain a constant).
But the movie shines when it focuses on those around Robinson. His wife, Rachel Robinson (Nicole Beharie) is not allowed to mix with the other team wives. Team manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) has enough problems of his own than to deal with the hooplah surrounding Robinson. And Branch Rickey himself has to deal with death threats and other massive problems created by his decision to stand by his new player.
The ensemble acting in this film is top-notch, lifting it from after-school-special, educational learning. Most notably, this is Harrison Ford's finest performance in years, transforming himself as the gruff Rickey. Then there is Alan Tudyk ("Wash" from Firefly) who plays a brutally ignorant opposing coach Ben Chapman, stealing his scenes and instigating the movie audience. Hamish Linklater and Lucas Black show that Robinson also had support among his white teammates, although they were few and far between.
It would have been nice to get more of a raw and unfiltered re-telling of this ground-breaking moment in history. But 42 seems polished and watered-down, cinematically. Still, the story is an important one, showing the genesis of a real American hero.
For every person of color who has broke through the barrier - against all odds - there were those on the other side helping to pull them through. This isn't to take anything away from Robinson's personal accomplishments or bravery, but rather to say that heroism usually involves more than just the hero: There must be other kindred spirits fighting and scratching alongside them for any real change to occur.
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